Afghans protest against burning of holy book
BAGRAM (AFGHANISTAN) PROTESTERS hurling petrol bombs and firing slingshots besieged the largest US-run military base in Afghanistan on Tuesday, furious over reports that NATO troops burned copies of the Quran.
The enraged crowd shouted “Death to Americans” and “Death to infidels” as guards at Bagram airbase, north of Kabul, responded by firing rubber bullets from a watchtower.
Hundreds of other people protested in the Afghan capital as security forces dispatched reinforcements in a bid to stop the demonstrations from spiralling out of control in the fiercely conservative Islamic country.
The US commander in Afghanistan, General John Allen, apologised and ordered an investigation into a report that troops “improperly disposed of a large number of Islamic religious materials which included Qurans”.
“I offer my sincere apologies for any offense this may have caused, to the president of Afghanistan, the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, and most importantly, to the noble people of Afghanistan,” he said.
He did not mention how the religious materials had been disposed of, but partlyburnt copies of the Quran said to have been saved from destruction by Afghan workers within the base. Allen’s remarkably candid statement, apparently aimed at damage limitation after similar incidents led to violence and attacks on foreigners, was played repeatedly on Afghan television.
Allegations that NATO troops at Bagram had set fire to copies of the Muslim holy book were first reported by Afghans working at the base, a senior government official said. A local police official said more than 2,000 people were demonstrating outside the sprawling US-run Bagram base at one stage.
Sediq Sediqqi, an interior ministry spokesman, said Afghan security forces brought the demonstration under control and that by late afternoon it was over.